Family is hard. The people we say we love the most in this world tend to also be the ones we most struggle with. This Is Fiction, a new play by Megan Hart now at the Cherry Lane Studio Theater, offers a subtle and realistic portrayal of these conflicts, utilizing every-day characters in a tough situation to illuminate common, deep-seeded family issues that frequently get set to the side.
Amy (Aubyn Philabaum), a writer, has just finished her first novel, called We Live on Perfect Street. The “fiction” (her words) is about her dead mother, an alcoholic, and the effect her drinking had on her family and childhood. After receiving a hefty offer to have the book published, Amy nervously rushes home to New Jersey for the first time in years to seek the approval of her sister, Celia (Michelle David), and father (Richard Masur). Unsurprisingly, telling her family that she plans to make their private lives public record proves to be an unnerving and difficult task—especially as the play reveals more and more of Amy’s troublesome past.
Under the swift direction of Shelley Butler, each member of the cast handles the script smartly. Walking into your childhood home can be a bit surreal, no matter your current life. Everything—the table, the coffee pot, the fake plants—tends to be the same, but it’s rarely the home you remember. Amy’s situation is no different. Philabaum does a fabulous job letting us into her character’s psyche while she puzzles over how to explain the reason for her visit. But the real shining comes from both Masur and David, whose sharp, passive-aggressive father-daughter relationship is so twisted and strained that thinking this family dynamic was once healthy seems impossible.
The only major dilemma with the show involves Amy’s love interest, Ed (Bernardo Cubria). Although Cubria’s sweet performance is mostly lovable (and it’s helpful to have a character give a non-family perspective), his place in the story sometimes feels forced. One of This Is Fiction‘s most emotional moments loses a bit of its punch when Hart has Ed (literally) jump in and essentially explain the play’s thematic subtext to Amy (and, in turn, the audience). This moment unfortunately costs the plot some of its subtle charms. Overall, though, This Is Fiction becomes an endearing and stark reminder about how the past will always continue to change and evolve, even if we write it down.